CINCINNATI -- On the heels of Luis Castillo's shortest start of his career, interim manager Jim Riggleman wished the right-hander could have his next start skipped so it would allow for two side bullpen sessions to make some mechanical corrections. But with the scheduled off-day Thursday and Castillo's turn falling on Wednesday made skipping him impossible.
One bullpen session, however, did bring some needed improvement. Although he was on the hook for the Reds' 3-1 loss to the Brewers at Great American Ball Park -- with Christian Yelich hitting the go-ahead homer off him in the fifth inning -- Castillo pitched into the seventh. Considering he finished only one-plus inning while allowing five earned runs at Minnesota in his last start, that's a nice rebound.
"He was better tonight, that's for sure," Riggleman said. "He was feeling better about himself and the results. He's not all the way back. He knows there's more in there. We're really happy to get him extended tonight, especially coming off that bad one last week."
In his six-plus innings Wednesday, Castillo gave up two earned runs, nine hits and one walk while striking out seven. Six of the strikeouts came from his changeup.
Pitching coach Danny Darwin and bullpen coach Ted Power had noticed Castillo had been struggling this season because he had changed arm slots in his delivery. He wasn't getting his hand on top of the ball, causing his fastball to flatten out over the plate with less velocity and making his changeup less effective. That was corrected ahead of Wednesday.
"I was trying to keep my arm straight up. I had very good command of my pitches today," Castillo said via translator Julio Morillo. "You know [the changeup], that's my best pitch. You believe in that. You believe in a pitch like I believe in my changeup, it's going to be really good."
Of the 106 pitches Castillo threw, the most (41) was with the changeup, according to Statcast™, and it averaged 85 mph. It garnered 14 swings and misses. His two-seam and four-seam fastballs, meanwhile, each averaged 96 mph.
Milwaukee used three singles off Castillo in the top of the second inning to take a 1-0 lead. With two outs, Orlando Arcia hit a sharp grounder near the line off the glove of diving first baseman Joey Votto. It went for a single that scored Jesus Aguilar for a 1-0 Brewers lead.
In the fourth after Eugenio Suarez's leadoff walk against Brewers starter Wade Miley, Devin Mesoraco shot a one-out double through the gap in left-center field. As the ball rolled to the wall, Suarez was waved around and scored just ahead of the relay throw to tie it at 1.
Facing Yelich in the fifth, Castillo offered two fastballs that missed. He followed with two changeups, but Yelich remained in a hitter's count at 3-1. A third consecutive changeup came to Yelich, and he was ready. It was lifted deep to right field for a leadoff homer. The Brewers added an insurance run off reliever Jared Hughes in the eighth and completed a three-game series sweep that left the Reds with a Major League-worst 7-24 record.
"I think when Luis is really right, you wouldn't see nine hits in five innings, that type of thing," Riggleman said. "He's going to put hitters away a little better than that. But he got his strikeouts on his changeup tonight and got some ground balls when he needed it. He's moving in the right direction."
Castillo is 1-4 with a 7.01 ERA and 1.67 WHIP in seven starts. His lone win came the only other time he worked into the seventh inning -- also against the Brewers -- on April 16 at Miller Park. In that game, his changeup was also crisp and getting whiffs, and he took a shutout into the seventh before giving up four runs.
The two starts vs. Milwaukee offered glimpses of what the 25-year-old Castillo did during his rookie season in 2017. Called up from Double-A in June, he was 3-7 but had a 3.15 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 15 starts. Besides a filthy changeup, he also could reach triple-digit velocity with his four-seam fastball.
"When you're so impressive last year, I think the expectations are certainly high," Mesoraco said. "I thought that today was definitely closer. He's been working hard on the side, and everyone's been trying to get him back to where we know he can be. We know he'll get there. He's a young kid. Sometimes you just get a little out of whack. I thought today was definitely right where we need him."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Missed chances: The Reds were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and had a chance to take a lead in the fourth following Mesoraco's double. Alex Blandino was next with a walk, but that put the rally in the hands of the bottom of the lineup. Both Castillo and No. 9 hitter, Billy Hamilton, struck out against Miley. It was the left-hander's season debut after he sustained a groin strain during Spring Training.
"Miley was really good," said Riggleman. "He's another guy who was on a rehab situation and prepared himself to come here with some Minor League starts. He was really good today. I've seen him a few times, and that's the best I've seen him."
After seeing seven pitches, Jesse Winker's leadoff walk in the bottom of the first extended his streak of reaching safely to 19 games, the team's longest of the season. Reds leadoff batters entered the night ranked fourth in the National League with 569 pitches faced.
HE SAID IT
"Whenever he's throwing his side [session], that'll be where we bear down and get with him with 'This is what we're seeing,' and, 'This is what we need to work on.' I think he's in a good place at the moment, and I think we can expect good things from Luis going forward." -- Mesoraco, on Castillo
Following an off-day on Thursday, the Reds resume their homestand at 7:10 p.m. ET on Friday by opening a three-game series vs. the Marlins. It could mark the return to the lineup for second baseman Scooter Gennett, who has been limited to DH and pinch-hitting duty all week because of a sore right shoulder. Sal Romano will start for Cincinnati on the mound opposite Miami lefty Wei-Yin Chen.